Congratulations! You're a New Nurse Leader…Now What?

Any tips for a new nurse leader?

You may have been a nurse for a long time, but once you assume your first leadership role many things may change. Now you’re not just accountable to your boss, and your patients, you’re also responsible for the staff you are leading—and they may have expectations of you, too.


Any tips for a new nurse leader?

Maybe you’ve been preparing for years for a leadership position through education and promotions, or perhaps the opportunity was thrust upon you. Regardless of the path you took to get here, you’re now in a nursing leadership position. Even if this position is within the organization you’ve worked within for years, your priorities have changed. In addition to being responsible to your patients, you’re now responsible for your employees, as well.

Even if you know all the employees, and have worked beside them, they’ll have different expectations of you in your new role. Most leadership positions have tasks that require the skills of either a manager, a leader, or both. Only you can determine how to balance the key aspects of both roles and carve a successful path as a nurse leader.

Manager versus Leader

It’s not necessary to be assigned a leadership position to be a leader, and all nurse leaders aren’t successful in leading their employees. You can lead from wherever you are in the organization if you know how to project qualities and characteristics that inspire and influence others.

Organizations need both managers and leaders. Both roles have different priorities, and sometimes you might need to combine the skills of each. You might be required to manage budgets, inventory, staffing, and quality improvement efforts, while a leader’s duties extend beyond required tasks. Leaders must consider their employees emotions, and recognize and respect them as individuals. To gain their trust and respect, leaders must ensure their employees feel appreciated, and that they believe their efforts make a difference in the organization.

Qualities of a Good Leader

Often nurses are promoted into leadership positions because they’re good clinicians, critical thinkers, or since they have the most experience. But perseverance doesn’t procure leadership skills, although that doesn’t mean you can’t work to acquire or enhance these skills.

Consider what qualities you’ve sought, or admire, in a leader, and how you might work to develop, or model, those behaviors. A few desired qualities in a leader might include:

  • Presenting as a role model in a professional, and ethical manner
  • Being fair and consistent
  • Taking responsibility, and being accountable for their own performance
  • Keeping the bigger picture within view
  • Displaying passion, vision, and focus
  • A commitment to the organization, and their employees
  • An empathetic and caring nature
  • Excellent communication skills

Seek a nurse mentor who will provide you with honest feedback to help you determine where you fall within this spectrum, and what skills you should strive to improve. Listen to their feedback with the understanding that acquiring a nurse leadership position is only the beginning, to succeed it’s important to continue with professional development and keep abreast on potential organizational challenges.

Initial Efforts Reap Rewards

Without the heart and soul of a leader, you can be in a leadership role but not be successful in leading. Inspired and motivated followers who support their leader are essential to accomplishing organizational goals. Whether you’re new to the organization or adjusting to a role in which you’re now supervising your coworkers and friends, taking the time to listen, rather than making assumptions on what you believe needs done, can assist in achieving success.

Initially, most new leaders can benefit from spending more time listening, than delegating tasks and acting. Take advantage of the knowledge and expertise at your fingertips, and share your expectations, as well as clarify what your employees expect from you in this new role. A leader is one person, it requires communicating and collaborating with your team, and addressing individual concerns, to earn the respect and support essential to achieving success.

Find Your Peers

It can be lonely at the top when you realize that although you can still be friendly, and even friends with your employees, you have a new level of responsibility and often have access to confidential information that you can’t share. It’s helpful to develop a social network, and professional relationships, with other nurse leaders to reduce feelings of isolation.

Broadening your network can allow you to establish mutually beneficial relationships in which you can share best practices, knowledge, and validate that you may face the same challenges. If you’re concerned about asking for advice, or sharing experiences, with local competitors, there may be opportunities to establish trustworthy relationships online where you’re not in direct competition. These can be acquired through professional networks, or on social networks such as LinkedIn.

New Challenges and Rewards

A new nurse leader can be presented with many challenges. But there are also opportunities to reap rewards and gain professional satisfaction from having the chance to make a difference in your organization, and for your employees.

Maureen Bonatch MSN, BSN, RN draws from years of experience in nursing administration, leadership and psychiatric nursing to write healthcare content. Her work has appeared in numerous health system websites and healthcare journals. Her experience as a fiction author helps her craft engaging and creative content. Learn more about her freelance writing at and her fiction books at

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Brenda F. Johnson, MSN

99 Articles; 321 Posts

Specializes in Gastrointestinal Nursing. Has 31 years experience.

Thank you for this article, I can relate to the information because I am in a new role of leadership after many years. The biggest change for me is the information that I learn, I also want to share, but cannot. Before, I didn't really have to have a filter, now I have to check myself before sharing certain things. Doing the little things for my unit and staff goes a long way for unity and satisfaction.